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Durban - Durban city bosses and unions are in crisis talks to quickly pull together new pay structures and conditions of service for more than 20 000 employees by the end of the month, or no one can be paid.
On Tuesday, city manager S’bu Sithole said the city had no conditions of service to use to pay staff and were “back to square one”.
“Somehow we will have to come to an agreement immediately in terms of what conditions should apply - as a Band Aid. Because, come the end of the month, we must have a basis as to how to pay people,” he said on Thursday.
Once the temporary plan was in place, a task team would be formed to do an analysis of the previous agreement. Thereafter negotiations would take place with unions to draw up a new agreement.
Sithole was speaking at a press briefing about the city’s reaction to a Supreme Court of Appeal ruling last month.
He could not say what the financial implications of the ruling would be and sidestepped questions about whether ratepayers would foot the bill.
However, he was quick to quell fears that the municipality could go bankrupt.
“Any money we have to pay back to staff will be insignificant as it will be offset by what employees will be liable to pay back. A municipality of this size, which has a wage bill of R7 billion a year, cannot go bankrupt because of this. But any costs to be incurred will be made public and go before the executive committee.”
But the DA’s Dean Macpherson said Sithole’s assurances were not comforting. He said the city had embarked on a legal fishing expedition since 2007 and had come back with a massive legal bill that would take money away from service provision.
“This raises questions as to who gave authorisation in 2007 to embark on this process? The municipality must hold those people financially responsible. I differ with S’bu that it won’t bankrupt the municipality because he also says he does not know the full financial implications. That is why they have put together a task team,” he said.
The effect of the ruling was that the conditions of service agreement, implemented by the city in 2007, was declared null and void because it included issues that were out of its scope.
Some employees also had their salaries increased to match other staff, which cost the city R150m.
The city also cannot revert to conditions before the agreement as there were differences in pay according to gender and race.
The South African Municipal Workers Union (Samwu) and the Independent Municipal and Allied Trade Union (Imatu) claim that, as a result of the ruling, the city owes staff millions in benefits dating back six years.
These benefits were removed when the agreement was implemented in 2007.
Samwu regional secretary Nhlanhla Nyandeni said the union had met Sithole and the manager for corporate human resources, Dumisile Nene, on Friday to discuss the implications of the court ruling.
“They were concerned about the statements we made that the city could be bankrupt. We don’t want to get into that at this stage but the court ruling could have a negative financial impact for the city. Thousands of employees will be entitled to backpay,” he said.
Nyandeni said the union would convene meetings with its members from Friday and the task team that had been set up would assist in fast-tracking the process of finalising the conditions of service.
“We will be in a position to give exact figures by the end of October. We have requested that the task team gives us weekly updates on the progress,” he added.
The ANC’s provincial spokesman, Senzo Mkhize, urged the city and unions to find an amicable solution.
“We don’t want to see instability in the municipality as it could hinder service delivery. We are aware that the conditions of service would have expired and they should have started negotiating a new service agreement,” he said.
Sithole admitted that the city had made “mistakes” in the way the agreement had been handled.
“We do not want to say our predecessors were wrong or people have to be crucified. They were amalgamating councils with different pay structures where people were paid differently according to race and gender. They were trying to have uniformity and were not acting in bad faith.”
Sithole said normalising the conditions of service would not be easy. “It will be difficult to go to staff and ask them to pay back money for something that happened in 2007. It would be imprudent and impractical to do that.”
Sithole said the municipality’s stability had to be maintained. “There is no need to press panic buttons; we are going to tackle these issues sensibly with the unions.”